Sunday, June 21, 2009

for my first teaching assignment

. . .

Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

It wasn't easy teaching literature, a poem of choice, to a bunch of Ph.d and seasoned MA students. I was nervous in the beginning, but quickly loosened once the hard, beautiful sounds, assonance in Wilfred Owen's poem read through my voice, off the curves of my lips. If you've never read this poem aloud, try it - it makes you want to cry because the language is beautiful, strong, but you are also stunned and horrified as Owen intends. As long as there is war...this poem...written in response to his World War I experience is timeless.

I was a little worried that a war poem might not set well, particularly once you get to the end and feel the bitterness in Owen's work. But there was such a variety in the poems colleagues chose. Overall, I think my lesson went over well in the short time frame we had - I focused on the strongest literary element: imagery and use of 'children' instead of young men, compound adjectives, and that prominent change to second person point of view. I haven't received my professor's comments yet, hopefully by tomorrow. I have one more to teach and then I have to teach Nabakov's Lolita - I'm looking forward to the latter. I'm so ready now.

Happy Father's Day to my two Daddies, Emmitt and James - the ex-Vietnam War Vets.

And for Father's Day Gera is getting an excellent dinner (caldo de camarones y pescado), a shot or two of gold Patron, and we may drive to the lake if the hot sun permits. He's spoken to his son so they've bonded for the day. We can't wait for the day when Alan comes to live with us. That will be the best Father's Day present.

Gera also said, "Happy Father's Day to you too." I responded with a curious smile, "Why would you say that?" He said, "Because you were Jenn's mother AND her father." Sometimes the sense he makes is too much to handle. It was endearing.

Hope you all have an excellent one and the weather is treating you well!


ArtSparker said...

So did you all teach about poems you selected to each other? Sounds like a great way to spend class time. It is sad that the wuestion the poem proposes seems to need to be asked again and again.

Happy father's day to both of you.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

powerful poem - it is difficult at times trying to predict how 'war literature' will go over.

hope the weather permitted an outing to the lake. it was a beautiful day here yesterday and the beautiful weather continues!


notmassproduced said...

i bet u did a brilliant job. you ooze passion for your subject.

Angella Lister said...

Reading this, I felt like I had a personal teach with you. Your selected poem really is an extraordinary piece of work, especially the images he evokes that moment when the voice changes and you realize where he's going. So relevant now, too. Great post.